Lamps that emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation have become a standard at many nail salons, causing patrons to wonder about skin cancer risks while getting a manicure. These lamps are typically used to speed-dry regular manicures, and they are required to set gel manicures. Some nail lamps are called “UV” lamps, and some are called LED lamps, but both emit UV radiation. They predominantly produce UVA rays, which have been linked to both premature skin aging and skin cancer. However, even the most intense of these devices presents only a moderate UV risk — a far lower risk than that presented by UV tanning devices.
What you can do: To play it safe with gel manicures, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen to hands 20 minutes before your hands are exposed to UV light. However, even this precaution does not protect against subungual (under the nail) squamous cell carcinoma, a rare but potentially aggressive form of skin cancer. If getting a regular manicure, the safest bet is to allow nails to air-dry naturally, avoiding the drying lamps altogether or use an air blower or fan without UV lights.
About the expert:
Elizabeth K. Hale, MD is a board-certified dermatologist, cofounder of CompleteSkinMD and a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. She specializes in Mohs surgery, cosmetic dermatology and laser surgery and teaches advanced dermatologic surgery to NYU dermatology residents.